“Turn up, bring your family bring as many people as you can.

We’re going to need to raise awareness within the community

that we’re not happy with the current situation, and we need to make improvements.”

Paul Haines, Yass Branch President, NSW Nurses & Midwives Association 

Hospital staff short­ages in the bush are reaching crisis point. With the Daily Telegraph’s Bush Summit being held in Griffith this week, it was no better time for the state-focused newspaper to follow the lead of your humble Yass Valley Times and focus on the issues at Yass Hospital.

The Daily Telegraph highlighted patients needing emergency care in regional NSW hospitals and that they are “taking their lives in their own hands” as staff short­ages across the bush reach crisis point.

The chronic lack of staff at Yass District Hospital has led to 25 workers signing an open letter, which was seen by The Daily Telegraph, which states “the worsening staffing crisis … is placing the general community at great risk of harm”.

The letter, directed to Premier ­Dominic Perrottet and Health Minister Brad Hazzard, states, “the current ­staffing crisis at Yass Hospital means that there have been periods of time where no appropriately trained clinical staff are present at the hospital to provide any form of emergency service”.

Issues the YVT has also advocated for and made clear to its readers.

Previous strike action: Lovesh Kumar, Sandra Muscat, Leah Lloyd, Tina Bryers, Annah Witt, and Paul Haines, Yass Hospital staff who are members of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association

The DT said, “The crisis prompted NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Yass Hospital branch president Paul Haines to ­describe the rural healthcare system as” “a lottery.”

“If you present to the emergency ­department (there) over the last six months, you’re basically taking your life in your own hands, which is just a travesty in a country like Australia,” he said.

“This is not unique to Yass Hospital – this is happening all over rural NSW.”

Overnight on July 6, according to the letter, no doctor and only one nurse were on for the 12-bed facility, including the emergency department.

Again, on July 8, between 4.30pm and 5.30pm there was a period “where there was no nurse working in the Emergency Department and no doctor on site,” it is claimed.

“Patients presenting to the emergency were advised to wait in the Emergency Department waiting room,” the letter states.

The Times understands that staff wrote a similar letter at Christmas claiming a paramedic from Sydney was left to run the hospital when there were no doctors to man it.

Intermittent strikes are yet to change the ratios of nurses on duty, a key demand of the union to increase patient safety.

Mr Haines said it had been a re­occurring problem at the hospital, where the next nearest ED was 50 minutes away in the ACT.

“We’ve had a couple of episodes where we’ve been really short-staffed or not staffed appropriately at all,” he said.

“At a national level struggling to recruit nurses, the conditions in nursing are so bad that people aren’t coming in or they aren’t staying in.

“The community really needs to know how bad things are. It’s the same all over NSW Health at the moment.

“I’ve never worked in a health service as bad as this.”

A spokeswoman for the Southern NSW Local Health District said: “Yass District Hospital continues to provide safe and effective care. Appropriately trained staff are on site 24 hours per day, seven days per week to care for inpatients and provide emergency care.”

The spokeswoman confirmed a senior nurse manager was on duty on July 6 to replace a staff member who took unplanned leave.

She said on July 8, three clinicians, a doctor and two registered nurses provided cover for 30 minutes between shifts, contrary to the union’s claims there was no nurse in the Emergency Department or doctor on site.

The spokeswoman said the district was ­actively recruiting for more than three full-time registered nurse roles, and another enrolled nurse.

Paul puts his name to what he states and stands by it while the DT was provided a response from a spokesperson.

Labor health Shadow Minister Ryan Park said it was “clear” there was a health ­crisis in the bush.

“Whether it’s hospitals without doctors, EDs without nurses or patients being forced to travel hours for access to basic healthcare, it is quite clear that there is a crisis in rural and regional hospitals right across NSW,” he said.

Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor said “there’s obviously massive challenges about the health force” but “Yass Hospital does continue to provide safe and suitable care”.

She said the hospital was suitably covered at all times, including on July 8 when she said a third-year and eighth-year nurse were available.

“What concerns me about these sorts of things is it discourages people going to hospital when they need to,” she told the DT.

New initiatives, like an $883 million scheme that offers health workers recruitment and retention incentive packages worth up to $10,000 a year to take up a position in a rural or remote ­location, will help improve worker numbers in the bush, she said. However, it’s a far cry from what is being offered in Victoria which is doing away with fees altogether to train.

These financial fixes may help in the future but they don’t help right now which is why strike action is going ahead this Thursday, September 1.

Paul said, “So the strike is going to be on the first of September, obviously, this year, it’s going to be at 10 o’clock outside the hospital. The reason that we’re striking is to raise awareness among the public with regard to the current state of the health system. And when I say current state, I mean, the horrendous situation that we find ourselves in as nurses, as well as patients. So for many, many years, the current government has underfunded rural health or health in general. And we’re really trying to highlight that within the community. So hopefully, the community members will stand up and demand better of our current government. Services are at a point now where they’re actually getting very dangerous for the public of New South Wales. And if we don’t stand up and take action, then we will find that our health services are reduced to almost nothing.”

The biggest worry for nursing staff is that they have patients present at emergency and the appropriate treatment can’t be provided.

“This has actually been something that has happened. Very recently, unfortunately, we had a situation. Within the last month, I believe, where we actually had one night shift, where we had one nurse for the whole hospital. And that was looking after the inpatient unit as well as the emergency department. I guess she was doing the best that she could with what she had. But obviously, if you find yourself presenting critically unwell and presenting to an emergency department, you need to be seen and treated by somebody who really knows what they’re doing, who really knows where everything is within the hospital and how the systems work. If you don’t, then you’re at far higher risk of mortality, and morbidity, which is obviously not what you want.

Although there appear to be a number of constraints on the staff, Paul was adamant about the effort put in.

“What I can assure you is the nurses will always be working as hard as possible to actually see you within the times because we’re very aware of what our responsibilities are. And we’re very aware of the frameworks and guidelines that we work under and we always strive to provide the best practice within the timeframes that we’re given, the guidelines that we have. Unfortunately, the nature of emergency means that sometimes we can have an influx of patients at a certain time and the lack of appropriate nurses in the emergency department.”

Asked what can be done by the general public. It was clear what the nurses needed this Thursday.

“What we really hope for the public and we really need the public to understand is that what we are doing is we’re actually really standing up for their hospital. And this is something that the community really needs to be aware of, that the current government really are not interested in. From our point of view, they haven’t shown any interest in funding rural health care properly. What we’re asking the public to do is really support our cause. To do that, we asked them to speak to the local member of parliament and also to support us on our strike.

“Turn up, bring your family bring as many people as you can.

We’re going to need to raise awareness within the community

that we’re not happy with the current situation,

and we need to make improvements.”

Paul Haines, Yass Branch, NSW Nurses & Midwives Association